9/11 in a small midwest town

I was a 15-year-old high school sophomore on 9/11. The thing that strikes me 20 years later is just how normal and mundane that week was. You would think that there would be warning that some earth-shattering event is about to happen, but it was just a regular week.

That morning I was sitting in my second period Spanish class when the teacher got called out of the room by one of the gym teachers. I'm guessing she was telling her what was going on. One of the kids got up and turned on the classroom TV while the teacher was in the hallway and as they were flipping through the channels, settled on a news station with a live feed of both towers burning. We watched it for the 2-3 minutes she was in the hall. When the teacher came in, she told us, "We're going to turn that off. It's happening in New York and doesn't affect us." In retrospect, it was kind of a tone-deaf comment. None of us knew there were kids sitting in the building at that moment who would be deployed to and some who would even die in Iraq and Afghanistan because of what was happening in that moment.

I was fixated on it all day but I didn’t get truly scared until that evening when my mom and I drove into town to pick up a missing ingredient for dinner. I had my learner’s permit and was trying to get all the hours behind the wheel that I could, so I was driving. As we drove in, there were people lined up for a half mile from every single gas station, filling up their tanks. When we got to the grocery store, all of the canned goods, frozen food, and bottled water was picked clean. Michigan doesn’t have many natural disasters and I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I didn’t see anything like it again until people started hoarding at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. You sit there thinking, “What am I missing? Is there something coming to our little town that I’m not aware of?” I am proud to say I didn’t hoard in March 2020 but I had the same feeling in the pit of my stomach then as I had on 9/11 and was driving by lines of people waiting at gas stations.

I remember that evening sitting in our living room watching Bush’s address to the nation. I hadn’t held my mom’s hand in years by that point but I sat next to her and held her hand through the whole thing.

My hometown has a significant population of recent immigrants from Yemen.

It’s unusual for a town as small and rural as it is. The Islamophobia was sad, if predictable. I remember a sixth grader getting beat up in the weeks after 9/11. Cause, you know, an 11-year-old is clearly a good outlet for your anger (end sarcasm). I also remember insane and clearly false rumors going around town, of people cheering in the streets that morning in the predominantly Yemeni neighborhoods. There was also a rumor around Christmas 2001 where a manager at our small-town Walmart apparently caught a Yemeni guy returning a bunch of game consoles that had explosives in them, with the intention of them being resold to families for Christmas gifts. None of it was true of course.

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